Tang Kwok-hin: Negotiating Originality

Tang Kwok-hin, Offhand-over
Installation view of Snow White Silver
Snow White Silver 白雪銀 (Heineken) 2014 Aluminium can, sponge, wood, metal 127 x 26 x 28 cm
I call you Nancy – Your Diary , 2012-13
I Call You Nancy 我喚你作楠詩 (1) Collage (1) 2012 – 13 Digital print on acetate, C-print, wood, glass 76 x 63.2 cm ( Collages by Google images searched and based on an un-born sister of the artist, transparent adhesive C-print collages on glass)
Installation view of Offhand-over
Installation view of Offhand-over
Installation view of Offhand-over
Cold Plank 冷板 2015 Foam, plastic, metal, found objects Variable Dimensions (Souvenirs from Legislative Council of Hong Kong, eighteen office chairs)
Grandpa Tang 鄧爺爺 2015 mixed media 2 pieces, 124 x 100 x 35 cm each (Things left from the artist’s ancestors and Grandpa since 1800s till 2000s, previous works selected from the artist since 2005 till 2015.)
Details of Grandpa Tang
Tang Kwok-hin
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As he reaches a new stage in his career, Tang Kwok-hin talks aesthetic, paradoxes and collecting.

TEXT: Christie Lee
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

 

Tang Kwok-hin, Offhand-over
Tang Kwok-hin, Offhand-over

 

If there’s anything that Tang Kwok-hin doesn’t lack, it’s likely thinking space. A breezy 10-minute walk from Kam Sheung Station, the artist lives in a three-storey house with his parents and dog.  “We [the Tang clan] have lived in this neighbourhood for centuries.” The house that Tang grew up in was built in the 1970s – “our uncle used to live with us, but my grandfather built another house for him,” notes the artist as he gives me a tour of the house. While the first floor is used as a living room, rooms on the second floor are chock-a-block with Tang’s “acquisitions throughout the years”, with one opening up to overwhelming stacks of bric-a-brac, and another transformed into a wood-working workshop. On the third floor, a wine shelf doubles up as the artist’s trusty work desk.

The only child of the family, Tang grew up in relatively isolated surrounds – “I didn’t talk much as a child, I liked to observe,” he recalls. School was a bore, though he had an affinity for the arts, using the house walls as canvas.  When he failed his A-Levels, he was shipped off to a remote part of China, where his life revolved around making art, “learning English” – “actually the teacher wasn’t that good” and studying. Second time proved to be a charm, and in 2003, he was admitted to the Fine Arts department at Chinese University.

 

Installation view of Snow White Silver
Installation view of Snow White Silver
Snow White Silver 白雪銀 (Heineken) 2014 Aluminium can, sponge, wood, metal 127 x 26 x 28 cm
Snow White Silver 白雪銀 (Heineken) 2014 Aluminium can, sponge, wood, metal 127 x 26 x 28 cm

 

“Completeness”, or its lack thereof, runs through most of the artist’s work – a theme encapsulated by Needs, his retrospective at Gallery Exit in 2015. Coke and beer cans are stripped of their shiny labels, while supermarket flyer are reduced to blobs of colours and dense monotone strips. Stripped of their original intention, and in the absence of labels and packaging, only figments of these object’s former selves remain. In a society of extremes, it’s easy to slap such labels as anti-capitalism or anti-consumerism onto the artist’s work. While Tang’s art exposes conflicts between urban and rural societies, man and nature, the artist emphasises that his use of ready-mades is more an inevitability, a product of capitalism if you will. “Ready-mades are the rule of life, so it’s hard to avoid…ultimately my art is about breaking down the boundaries between art and life, and exposing the paradoxes in between.”

Tang’s method has its origins in Marcel Duchamp’s Fontaine (1917), yet the artist’s most powerful works are those which make use of story-telling as a re-contextualising tool. Rather than focus on the object’s inherent aesthetic i.e. its lines, form and material, Tang’s ready-mades are anchored in narratives.

 

I call you Nancy - Your Diary , 2012-13
I call you Nancy – Your Diary , 2012-13

 

“I don’t care too much about aesthetics. For me, it’s all about the idea, the concept.” The artist imagines the sister he never had the chance to meet in I Call you Nancy. “My mom had a baby before me, but she decided to give it up. Later I found out that it was typical of many mothers at the time,” the artist, who would go on a spree on Google to piece together who Nancy might have been, explains. The internet also played a hand in The Photobook of Mu Mu Dao, an album containing print-out photographic images of ‘tree’, ‘sea’, ‘village’ that the artist had searched for online.

 

I Call You Nancy 我喚你作楠詩 (1) Collage (1) 2012 - 13 Digital print on acetate, C-print, wood, glass 76 x 63.2 cm ( Collages by Google images searched and based on an un-born sister of the artist, transparent adhesive C-print collages on glass)
I Call You Nancy 我喚你作楠詩 (1) Collage (1) 2012 – 13 Digital print on acetate, C-print, wood, glass 76 x 63.2 cm ( Collages by Google images searched and based on an un-born sister of the artist, transparent adhesive C-print collages on glass)

 

Spurred by 2014’s Occupy Central movement, Tang’s art has taken a more political slant in recent years. “I was actually only here for the first few days [of the movement] as I had to go the United States for an art residency,” he recounts. “But I didn’t stop thinking about it. My eyes were glued to the news every day.” In Offhand-over, empty canvases and a few sad-looking leafless pots side up uneasily to a stack of Mao literature and a framed Secretary for Home Affairs’ Commendation Scheme Award, prompting questions about authority and political obligation.

“They [the Hong Kong government] wanted to give me the commendation when I was still in the States. I didn’t come back to get it,” he shrugs. “These contradictions are unique to this generation. I mean, few would hesitate if the government was to award you back in my parents’ days.” Offhand-over debuted at Things that can happen in last month and will next be shown at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in New South Wales.

 

Installation view of Offhand-over
Installation view of Offhand-over
Installation view of Offhand-over
Installation view of Offhand-over
Installation view of Offhand-over
Installation view of Offhand-over

 

Tang also notes of a conscious effort to review “ideas relating to aesthetics”. After all, one of modern art’s greatest contributions to art history is not the rejection of aesthetics altogether, but rather its critique of pre-20th century notions of beauty and the meaning of art itself.

“I painted a lot when I was young, but for me it was all just about nailing the right lines, shapes, perspectives. When I first started out as an artist, I found that ready-mades were a much better medium for me to express my ideas. But I’m beginning to realise that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive in my artistic practice.” This effort is best encapsulated in the artist’s sticker collages, one of which will be Tang’s submission to the upcoming edition of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

 

Cold Plank 冷板 2015 Foam, plastic, metal, found objects Variable Dimensions (Souvenirs from Legislative Council of Hong Kong, eighteen office chairs)
Cold Plank 冷板 2015 Foam, plastic, metal, found objects Variable Dimensions (Souvenirs from Legislative Council of Hong Kong, eighteen office chairs)

 

And then there is the burning question: whatever does art do? “People ask me that all the time! But I think it’s unfair to art. If you’re expecting it [art] to influence government decisions, obviously it can’t. Few things can, unless you start a war,” the artist pauses before noting more brightly. “But education is a powerful tool,” Tang, who participated in M+ Rover: Travelling Creative Studio earlier this year, continues. “You don’t realise it until you start talking to kids. Education is still best way to counter ignorance.”

For Child at 100ft. Park, he recorded the younger generation’s responses to questions like “what is freedom?” and “who would you vote for in an election?” “Someone answered the freedom is basically ‘free period’ during school, while a little girl told me that she would vote for someone who is responsible, not simply someone who likes, as class president. I mean, even a child knows that.”

 

Grandpa Tang 鄧爺爺 2015 mixed media 2 pieces, 124 x 100 x 35 cm each (Things left from the artist’s ancestors and Grandpa since 1800s till 2000s, previous works selected from the artist since 2005 till 2015.)
Grandpa Tang 鄧爺爺 2015 mixed media 2 pieces, 124 x 100 x 35 cm each (Things left from the artist’s ancestors and Grandpa since 1800s till 2000s, previous works selected from the artist since 2005 till 2015.)
Details of Grandpa Tang
Details of Grandpa Tang

 

 

Tang Kwok-hin
Tang Kwok-hin

 

About the artist

Tang Kwok-hin, mixed media artist, independent curator and writer, was born in 1983 and raised in Hong Kong. He received his Master of Fine Arts from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2008 and Bachelor of Arts (major in Fine Arts) in 2006. His art focus on occasion, space, time and ways of encountering symbols to explore hidden rules in living and existing context for self-expression like collage. He previously participated in 15th WRO Media Art Biennale, Hong Kong Contemporary Biennial Award 2009, 1st Hong Kong Art Basel “Discoveries” with a solo presentation, etc.; also exhibited in Ice Palace, Miami, U.S.A.; Osthaus Museum, Hagen, Germany; Museum Bärengasse, Switzerland; Esplanade, Singapore; Singapore Art Museum; Venice Arsenale, Italy; Vargas Museum, Manila, Philippines; Busan Cinema Center, South Korea; Hong Kong Museum of Art; Kuandu Museum, Taipei; Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art, etc. He was awarded the first prize at Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial 2009; selected by Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2010 and 2011; awarded a Young Artist Award by Hong Kong Arts Development Awards 2010; granted by Asian Cultural Council in 2013. Collectors of his art include Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Deutsche Bank, Amelia Johnson Contemporary and private collections over the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc.

 

 

 


Christie Lee is a Hong Kong-based arts journalist, her articles have been published in Art + Auction, Artsy Editorial, Art in Asia, Baccarat magazine and Yishu. She has a degree in English literature and political science from McGill University.

 

 
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